Will Marriage & the Family Survive the 21st Century?

Will Marriage & the Family Survive the 21st Century?

A paper by Janice Shaw Crouse, Senior Fellow, "Concerned Women for America", presented for Ninth Rhodes Forum Session, October 2011

The Roman philosopher and orator, Cicero, once said, “The first bond of society is marriage.”1 He believed that an in-tact family structure –– a married mom and dad –– was essential to the well-being of a strong society. Indeed, the institution of marriage has been the bedrock of civilization for thousands of years; yet today, marriage and family, as we have known it, is under attack.

While the social science research is clear and unequivocal ––marriage is central to the welfare of both individuals and the entire social order –– unwarranted changes in family structure are profoundly reshaping our post-modern society.2 Overwhelmingly, children are the ones thrust into poverty when the parents reject marriage. In addition to material deprivation, many children are emotionally abandoned, abused, ignored, and their needs sacrificed when an immature, self-centered single mother has to choose between a boyfriend, her addictions, and/or her fun and her children.3 Even when poverty is not the issue, growing up in material prosperity can never compensate for those conditions of moral poverty that inevitably produce isolation, despair, and emotional pain.4

Globally, 70 percent of people still believe marriage is intended to be for life, and 75 percent claim it is a personal lifetime goal. Around 90 percent of Americans will marry during their lifetime; the two-parent household is still the rule rather than the exception for white America and 66 percent of the population lives in a married couple family.5 However, for many European countries (the southern ones in particular), marriage today is “irrelevant.” In fact, a majority of Europeans believe a long-term stable relationship to be just as good as marriage.6 And within the United States, the marriage rate has dropped by nearly 50 percent over the last 42 years.7

These are staggering statistics, to be sure. How did we go from a society that cherished marriage as its most sacred cornerstone to one that views it as a costly and nonessential legality – “just a piece of paper”?  Marriage is under attack from 3 major areas:  (1) the rise of cohabitation as a substitute for marriage, (2) the normalization of promiscuity, casual or “free-sex” and (3) the promotion by activists of their so-called, “same-sex marriage” agenda.

Cohabitation:  Increasingly, cohabitation is displacing marriage. According to the U.S. Census Bureau, 439,000 unmarried couples were living together in 1960. Fifty years later, that figure has ballooned to 7.5 million.8 Among the reasons couples give for living together without marriage are9:

-         Convenience: “We’re together most of the time anyway.”

-         Economics: “Why waste money on two apartments?”

-         Practicality: “We were both looking for a roommate.”

-         Experimentation: “We’re test-driving our relationship to see if we’re ready for marriage.”

However, when we take an honest look at the facts, cohabitation does very little to promote healthy, stable and lasting relationships. First, living together delays marriage considerably. In the 1970s, about 60 percent of cohabiting couples married within three years. By the 90s, it was less than 40 percent.10 Cohabitation also diminishes the stability of the marriages that do form, as they are more prone to problems like drug and alcohol abuse, violence, promiscuous sex, and an excessive avoidance of commitment brought on by a fear of dependency (“abhorrence of dependence”).11 As a result, the divorce rate is 80 percent higher among women who lived together with their partners before marriage.12

And if children are involved, they are much more likely to experience depression, disorders, and other forms of distress than children whose parents are married. According to the third edition of Why Marriage Matters, released in mid-August this year, preschoolers in a cohabiting household are 47.6 times more likely to die from abuse compared to children raised in an intact, married household. Moreover, half of all kids born to cohabitating parents see their mothers start or end a relationship before age 3, compared to only 13 percent of those born to married parents. By the time they enter adolescence, they are more likely to engage in delinquent behavior than kids raised in a married household.13

Promiscuity: But marriage is not just being replaced by a subpar substitute; it is also being assaulted from the inside. Infidelity has been found to be the single most-cited cause of divorce in over 150 cultures,14 and in western countries, between a quarter and half of all divorcees cite a spouse’s infidelity as the primary cause.15 Sexual intercourse is the most intimate act between a husband and wife, and is ONLY constructive within the confines of marriage.

Promiscuous sex causes pain before marriage and lingering problems later on during marriage. It diminishes trust between couples and is a destructive escape from problems within the relationship. Promiscuity tempts vulnerable partners with sex that is supposedly “free” and recreational – “no strings attached.” The rise of feminism in the 60s taught women that promiscuity was “sexual freedom.” It was promoted as an avenue to equality and better careers, and an end to male domination and unwanted childbearing. Betty Friedan, author of The Feminine Mystique, succinctly encapsulated these sentiments when she wrote, “Women…You have nothing to lose but your vacuum cleaners.”16 But in reality, what promiscuity leaves in its wake are searing pain and tragic problems - broken promises, broken spirits, broken marriages, and broken families.

Before 1970, when California established “no-fault” divorce, the spouse who wanted to end the marriage had to identify the other spouse as the one “at fault,” likely due to unfaithfulness.17 Since the 70s, however, “no-fault” divorce has gained ground in several states, and as of October of last year, it officially became legal nationwide.18 Essentially, it took marriage from an everlasting covenant partnership and permanent contractual agreement and reduced it to an unbinding, and often temporary, arrangement. As a result, couples have felt more at liberty to pursue extramarital relationships when the going gets tough. They know the law will not hold them accountable, and neither will society.

“Same-Sex Marriage:” Society today has deviated so far from anything that might pass for morality that we are in a state of utter confusion as to what marriage even means, and our foundation of traditional family values is in danger of collapse. Since 2001, ten (10) countries — Argentina, Belgium, Canada,  Iceland, The Netherlands, Norway, Portugal, Spain, South Africa and Sweden — have granted marriage rights to same-sex couples on an equal footing with heterosexuals.19 Currently, six of our own states recognize same-sex marriage: New York, New Hampshire, Maine, Vermont, Iowa, Connecticut and Massachusetts, plus Washington D.C.20

It is important to note that the increase in states recognizing same-sex marriage has largely been the result of activist judges legislating from the bench. When left up to the American people, 31 states chose to include a referendum on their ballot to preserve the traditional definition of marriage – ONE man, ONE woman.

Gay activists claim to be the victims of discrimination and bigotry, and that they are being denied their civil and constitutional rights. But in his article, “Same-Sex marriage – Challenges & Responses,” Townhall columnist Gregory Koukl counters, “Same-sex marriage is not about civil rights. It is about validation and social respect. It is a radical attempt at civil engineering using government muscle to strong-arm the people into accommodating a lifestyle many find deeply offensive, contrary to nature, socially destructive, and morally repugnant.” 21

In this menacing social experiment, children often become the “guinea pigs” of social experimentation. By way of gay adoptions, our culture tells them that being raised by two mothers or two fathers is the same as being raised by a mother and a father, and the only thing that matters is that there is love in the home. But this contradicts decades of social science which has consistently shown that children do best when raised by a loving mother and father. The two most loving lesbians will never be able to teach a little boy how to be a man, and the two most loving gay men will never be able to teach a girl to be a woman. 

Conclusion: Many of those who thought that “sexual freedom” would be liberating have found, too late and to their regret, that the dregs of “Fortune’s cup” are bitter indeed.22

What we’ve learned, to our sorrow, is the consequences of the decline in marriage and breakdown of the family, have not only negatively affected generations of individuals on a personal level; the decline of marriage has undermined our social institutions and shaken the stability of nations.

In my 20 years of research, writing and working in the public policy arena on this issue, I have seen a mountain of studies, papers, and reports that agree – across ideological and partisan divides – that marriage matters. It matters for individuals and it matters for nations.

-         There is a longing in the heart of virtually all of us for someone permanent who will accept us unconditionally and love us whole-heartedly....always and forever.

-         There is an emptiness in children that can only be filled by a mom and a dad who are absolutely crazy about them and are “there” for them consistently....always and forever.

-         Further, there is a desperate need in our communities, for the stabilizing influence of married couple families as an anchor that will hold society’s ship of state steady when it faces the howling winds of change, crisis and unpredictable events. 

Marriage matters in all of those circumstances –– it is both a personal relationship and a central institution of society. Both functions are essential for an individual’s happiness and well-being and for the effective functioning and stability of neighborhoods, communities and nations.  This two-pronged vision of marriage is an ideal to be promoted and embodied in public policies.

And now, if I may conclude and leave you with this description of marriage:

“Decades of social-science research have confirmed the deepest intuitions of the human heart: As frightening, exhilarating, and improbable as this wild vow of constancy may seem, there is no substitute.  When love seeks permanence, a safe home for children who long for both parents, when men and women look for someone they can count on, there are no substitutes.  The word for what we want is marriage.”23

It is past time for us to overturn the negative cultural perceptions about marriage.  We must demonstrate by our own personal commitments the value of marriage on both an individual level and at the community/society/national level. We must trumpet the personal rewards of marriage and its community-wide social benefits.  We must dispel by our personal examples the cynics’ myth that a happy marriage is unattainable, and in the process, give young people the tools to seek and build good marriages and a reason to hope that such an enterprise is possible.


[1]"Marcus Tullius Cicero," 1-Famous-Quotes.com. Gledhill Enterprises, 2011. Tue Sep 27 06:42:48 2011. http://www.1-famous-quotes.com/quote/908145    2Janice Shaw Crouse, “Cohabitation: Consequences for Mothers, Children, and Society.” The Family in the New Millennium: The place of family in human society, Volume 1, Editor, A. Scott Loveless, Praeger Publishers, 2007, p. 347.

3Janice Shaw Crouse, Children at Risk, Transaction Publishers, 2010, p. 3.

4Ibid, p. 1

5Ibid, p. 23.

6“With Valentines Day Beckoning,” A.C. Nielsen, United Kingdom, Feb. 13, 2007. http://www.marketresearchworld.net/index.php?option=com_content&task=view&id=1266&Itemid=77

7Janice Shaw Crouse. Children at Risk, Transaction Publishers, 2010, p. 19. Based on material from: Janice Shaw Crouse, Gaining Ground: A Profile of American Women in the 20th Century, Washington, DC: The Beverly LaHaye Institute, 2000): 37-42. www.cwfa.org

8“Is Living Together a Risky Proposition?” Healthy Relationships California, September 19, 2011. http://www.relationshipsca.org/blog/2011/09/is-living-together-a-risky-proposition/.  Data from: U.S. Census Bureau, http://www.census.gov/ 

9Ibid. 

10Janice Shaw Crouse. Children at Risk, Transaction Publishers, 2010, p. 56. Based on material from: Larry L. Bumpass “The Declining Significance of Marriage: Changing Family Life in the United States,” (paper presented at the Potsdam International Conference “Changing Families and Childhood,” December 14-17, 1994).

11Robert H. Coombs, “Marital Status and Personal Well-Being: A Literature Review,” Family Relations, 40:97-102, 1991.

12 Neil G. Bennett, Ann Klimas Blanc, and David E. Bloom, “Commitment and the Modern Union: Assessing the Link  Between Premarital Cohabitation and Subsequent Marital Stability,” American Sociological Review 53 (1988).

13Healthy Relationships California.

14 Betzig, L. (1989). "Causes of conjugal dissolution: A cross-cultural study." Current Anthropology 30(5): 654-676.

15 Kelly, E. L. and J. J. Conley (1987). "Personality and compatibility: A prospective analysis of marital stability and marital satisfaction." Journal of Personality and Social Psychology 52(1): 27-40.

Amato, P. R. and S. J. Rogers (1997). "A longitudinal study of marital problems and subsequent divorce." Journal of Marriage & the Family 59(3): 612-624.

16Friedan, Betty. Life Magazine. Nov. 1, 1963, p. 88

17Janice Shaw Crouse. Children at Risk, Transaction Publishers, 2010, p. 28.

18Wikipedia: “No-fault divorce”. http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/No-fault_divorce

19Wikipedia: “Status of same-sex marriage”. http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Status_of_same-sex_marriage 

20Wikipedia: “Same-sex marriage in the United States”. http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Same-sex_marriage_in_the_United_States

21Gregory Koukl.“Same-Sex marriage – Challenges & Responses.” Townhall.com, Feb. 11, 2007,

http://townhall.com/columnists/gregorykoukl/2007/02/11/same-sex_marriage_%e2%80%94_challenges__responses 

22From Homer – “The bitter dregs of Fortune's cup to drain.”

23Linda Waite and Maggie Gallagher, The Case for Marriage: Why Married People are Happier, Healthier and Better Off Financially, New York: Doubleday, 2000, p. 203

Will Marriage & the Family Survive the 21st Century?

A paper by Janice Shaw Crouse, Senior Fellow, "Concerned Women for America", presented for Ninth Rhodes Forum Session, October 2011

The Roman philosopher and orator, Cicero, once said, “The first bond of society is marriage.”1 He believed that an in-tact family structure –– a married mom and dad –– was essential to the well-being of a strong society. Indeed, the institution of marriage has been the bedrock of civilization for thousands of years; yet today, marriage and family, as we have known it, is under attack.

Keywords: marriage, family, post-modern society, cohabitation, divorce, promiscuity, same-sex marriage

While the social science research is clear and unequivocal ––marriage is central to the welfare of both individuals and the entire social order –– unwarranted changes in family structure are profoundly reshaping our post-modern society.2 Overwhelmingly, children are the ones thrust into poverty when the parents reject marriage. In addition to material deprivation, many children are emotionally abandoned, abused, ignored, and their needs sacrificed when an immature, self-centered single mother has to choose between a boyfriend, her addictions, and/or her fun and her children.3 Even when poverty is not the issue, growing up in material prosperity can never compensate for those conditions of moral poverty that inevitably produce isolation, despair, and emotional pain.4

Globally, 70 percent of people still believe marriage is intended to be for life, and 75 percent claim it is a personal lifetime goal. Around 90 percent of Americans will marry during their lifetime; the two-parent household is still the rule rather than the exception for white America and 66 percent of the population lives in a married couple family.5 However, for many European countries (the southern ones in particular), marriage today is “irrelevant.” In fact, a majority of Europeans believe a long-term stable relationship to be just as good as marriage.6 And within the United States, the marriage rate has dropped by nearly 50 percent over the last 42 years.7

These are staggering statistics, to be sure. How did we go from a society that cherished marriage as its most sacred cornerstone to one that views it as a costly and nonessential legality – “just a piece of paper”?  Marriage is under attack from 3 major areas:  (1) the rise of cohabitation as a substitute for marriage, (2) the normalization of promiscuity, casual or “free-sex” and (3) the promotion by activists of their so-called, “same-sex marriage” agenda.

Cohabitation:  Increasingly, cohabitation is displacing marriage. According to the U.S. Census Bureau, 439,000 unmarried couples were living together in 1960. Fifty years later, that figure has ballooned to 7.5 million.8 Among the reasons couples give for living together without marriage are9:

·                Convenience: “We’re together most of the time anyway.”

·                Economics: “Why waste money on two apartments?”

·                 Practicality: “We were both looking for a roommate.”

·                Experimentation: “We’re test-driving our relationship to see if we’re ready for marriage.”

However, when we take an honest look at the facts, cohabitation does very little to promote healthy, stable and lasting relationships. First, living together delays marriage considerably. In the 1970s, about 60 percent of cohabiting couples married within three years. By the 90s, it was less than 40 percent.10 Cohabitation also diminishes the stability of the marriages that do form, as they are more prone to problems like drug and alcohol abuse, violence, promiscuous sex, and an excessive avoidance of commitment brought on by a fear of dependency (“abhorrence of dependence”).11 As a result, the divorce rate is 80 percent higher among women who lived together with their partners before marriage.12

And if children are involved, they are much more likely to experience depression, disorders, and other forms of distress than children whose parents are married. According to the third edition of Why Marriage Matters, released in mid-August this year, preschoolers in a cohabiting household are 47.6 times more likely to die from abuse compared to children raised in an intact, married household. Moreover, half of all kids born to cohabitating parents see their mothers start or end a relationship before age 3, compared to only 13 percent of those born to married parents. By the time they enter adolescence, they are more likely to engage in delinquent behavior than kids raised in a married household.13

Promiscuity: But marriage is not just being replaced by a subpar substitute; it is also being assaulted from the inside. Infidelity has been found to be the single most-cited cause of divorce in over 150 cultures,14 and in western countries, between a quarter and half of all divorcees cite a spouse’s infidelity as the primary cause.15 Sexual intercourse is the most intimate act between a husband and wife, and is ONLY constructive within the confines of marriage.

Promiscuous sex causes pain before marriage and lingering problems later on during marriage. It diminishes trust between couples and is a destructive escape from problems within the relationship. Promiscuity tempts vulnerable partners with sex that is supposedly “free” and recreational – “no strings attached.” The rise of feminism in the 60s taught women that promiscuity was “sexual freedom.” It was promoted as an avenue to equality and better careers, and an end to male domination and unwanted childbearing. Betty Friedan, author of The Feminine Mystique, succinctly encapsulated these sentiments when she wrote, “Women…You have nothing to lose but your vacuum cleaners.”16 But in reality, what promiscuity leaves in its wake are searing pain and tragic problems - broken promises, broken spirits, broken marriages, and broken families.

Before 1970, when California established “no-fault” divorce, the spouse who wanted to end the marriage had to identify the other spouse as the one “at fault,” likely due to unfaithfulness.17 Since the 70s, however, “no-fault” divorce has gained ground in several states, and as of October of last year, it officially became legal nationwide.18 Essentially, it took marriage from an everlasting covenant partnership and permanent contractual agreement and reduced it to an unbinding, and often temporary, arrangement. As a result, couples have felt more at liberty to pursue extramarital relationships when the going gets tough. They know the law will not hold them accountable, and neither will society.

“Same-Sex Marriage:” Society today has deviated so far from anything that might pass for morality that we are in a state of utter confusion as to what marriage even means, and our foundation of traditional family values is in danger of collapse. Since 2001, ten (10) countries — Argentina, Belgium, Canada,  Iceland, The Netherlands, Norway, Portugal, Spain, South Africa and Sweden — have granted marriage rights to same-sex couples on an equal footing with heterosexuals.19 Currently, six of our own states recognize same-sex marriage: New York, New Hampshire, Maine, Vermont, Iowa, Connecticut and Massachusetts, plus Washington D.C.20

It is important to note that the increase in states recognizing same-sex marriage has largely been the result of activist judges legislating from the bench. When left up to the American people, 31 states chose to include a referendum on their ballot to preserve the traditional definition of marriage – ONE man, ONE woman.

Gay activists claim to be the victims of discrimination and bigotry, and that they are being denied their civil and constitutional rights. But in his article, “Same-Sex marriage – Challenges & Responses,” Townhall columnist Gregory Koukl counters, “Same-sex marriage is not about civil rights. It is about validation and social respect. It is a radical attempt at civil engineering using government muscle to strong-arm the people into accommodating a lifestyle many find deeply offensive, contrary to nature, socially destructive, and morally repugnant.” 21

In this menacing social experiment, children often become the “guinea pigs” of social experimentation. By way of gay adoptions, our culture tells them that being raised by two mothers or two fathers is the same as being raised by a mother and a father, and the only thing that matters is that there is love in the home. But this contradicts decades of social science which has consistently shown that children do best when raised by a loving mother and father. The two most loving lesbians will never be able to teach a little boy how to be a man, and the two most loving gay men will never be able to teach a girl to be a woman. 

Conclusion: Many of those who thought that “sexual freedom” would be liberating have found, too late and to their regret, that the dregs of “Fortune’s cup” are bitter indeed.22

What we’ve learned, to our sorrow, is the consequences of the decline in marriage and breakdown of the family, have not only negatively affected generations of individuals on a personal level; the decline of marriage has undermined our social institutions and shaken the stability of nations.

In my 20 years of research, writing and working in the public policy arena on this issue, I have seen a mountain of studies, papers, and reports that agree – across ideological and partisan divides – that marriage matters. It matters for individuals and it matters for nations.

·     There is a longing in the heart of virtually all of us for someone permanent who will accept us unconditionally and love us whole-heartedly....always and forever.

·     There is an emptiness in children that can only be filled by a mom and a dad who are absolutely crazy about them and are “there” for them consistently....always and forever.

·     Further, there is a desperate need in our communities, for the stabilizing influence of married couple families as an anchor that will hold society’s ship of state steady when it faces the howling winds of change, crisis and unpredictable events. 

Marriage matters in all of those circumstances –– it is both a personal relationship and a central institution of society. Both functions are essential for an individual’s happiness and well-being and for the effective functioning and stability of neighborhoods, communities and nations.  This two-pronged vision of marriage is an ideal to be promoted and embodied in public policies.

And now, if I may conclude and leave you with this description of marriage:

“Decades of social-science research have confirmed the deepest intuitions of the human heart: As frightening, exhilarating, and improbable as this wild vow of constancy may seem, there is no substitute.  When love seeks permanence, a safe home for children who long for both parents, when men and women look for someone they can count on, there are no substitutes.  The word for what we want is marriage.”23

It is past time for us to overturn the negative cultural perceptions about marriage.  We must demonstrate by our own personal commitments the value of marriage on both an individual level and at the community/society/national level. We must trumpet the personal rewards of marriage and its community-wide social benefits.  We must dispel by our personal examples the cynics’ myth that a happy marriage is unattainable, and in the process, give young people the tools to seek and build good marriages and a reason to hope that such an enterprise is possible.


[1]"Marcus Tullius Cicero," 1-Famous-Quotes.com. Gledhill Enterprises, 2011. Tue Sep 27 06:42:48 2011. http://www.1-famous-quotes.com/quote/908145    2Janice Shaw Crouse, “Cohabitation: Consequences for Mothers, Children, and Society.” The Family in the New Millennium: The place of family in human society, Volume 1, Editor, A. Scott Loveless, Praeger Publishers, 2007, p. 347.

3Janice Shaw Crouse, Children at Risk, Transaction Publishers, 2010, p. 3.

4Ibid, p. 1

5Ibid, p. 23.

6“With Valentines Day Beckoning,” A.C. Nielsen, United Kingdom, Feb. 13, 2007. http://www.marketresearchworld.net/index.php?option=com_content&task=view&id=1266&Itemid=77

7Janice Shaw Crouse. Children at Risk, Transaction Publishers, 2010, p. 19. Based on material from: Janice Shaw Crouse, Gaining Ground: A Profile of American Women in the 20th Century, Washington, DC: The Beverly LaHaye Institute, 2000): 37-42. www.cwfa.org

8“Is Living Together a Risky Proposition?” Healthy Relationships California, September 19, 2011. http://www.relationshipsca.org/blog/2011/09/is-living-together-a-risky-proposition/.  Data from: U.S. Census Bureau, http://www.census.gov/ 

9Ibid. 

10Janice Shaw Crouse. Children at Risk, Transaction Publishers, 2010, p. 56. Based on material from: Larry L. Bumpass “The Declining Significance of Marriage: Changing Family Life in the United States,” (paper presented at the Potsdam International Conference “Changing Families and Childhood,” December 14-17, 1994).

11Robert H. Coombs, “Marital Status and Personal Well-Being: A Literature Review,” Family Relations, 40:97-102, 1991.

12 Neil G. Bennett, Ann Klimas Blanc, and David E. Bloom, “Commitment and the Modern Union: Assessing the Link  Between Premarital Cohabitation and Subsequent Marital Stability,” American Sociological Review 53 (1988).

13Healthy Relationships California.

14 Betzig, L. (1989). "Causes of conjugal dissolution: A cross-cultural study." Current Anthropology 30(5): 654-676.

15 Kelly, E. L. and J. J. Conley (1987). "Personality and compatibility: A prospective analysis of marital stability and marital satisfaction." Journal of Personality and Social Psychology 52(1): 27-40.

Amato, P. R. and S. J. Rogers (1997). "A longitudinal study of marital problems and subsequent divorce." Journal of Marriage & the Family 59(3): 612-624.

16Friedan, Betty. Life Magazine. Nov. 1, 1963, p. 88

17Janice Shaw Crouse. Children at Risk, Transaction Publishers, 2010, p. 28.

18Wikipedia: “No-fault divorce”. http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/No-fault_divorce

19Wikipedia: “Status of same-sex marriage”. http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Status_of_same-sex_marriage 

20Wikipedia: “Same-sex marriage in the United States”. http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Same-sex_marriage_in_the_United_States

21Gregory Koukl.“Same-Sex marriage – Challenges & Responses.” Townhall.com, Feb. 11, 2007,

http://townhall.com/columnists/gregorykoukl/2007/02/11/same-sex_marriage_%e2%80%94_challenges__responses 

22From Homer – “The bitter dregs of Fortune's cup to drain.”

23Linda Waite and Maggie Gallagher, The Case for Marriage: Why Married People are Happier, Healthier and Better Off Financially, New York: Doubleday, 2000, p. 203